What are your rights if your holiday flight is delayed or cancelled?

Holidays are supposed to be relaxing affairs. They’re meant to get us away from all the stresses and strains of everyday life, allow us to spend quality time with the family and offer us a couple of weeks’ respite from our busy working lives. However, things don’t always go to plan. Sometimes fate intervenes, and what should have been two weeks of bliss becomes a fortnight of misery.

The biggest problem most holidaymakers face is flight trouble. Some flights are delayed for one reason or another either going to, or returning from your destination. Other flights are cancelled altogether, leaving holidaymakers stranded as has happened in recent weeks to holidaymakers in Corfu, Madeira, Nice and latterly Portugal. But what are your rights if your holiday is ruined by flight delays or cancellations? What sort of redress do you have when your holiday provider seriously lets you down?

Well, the good news is if you were subject to a flight delay of 3 hours or more, you may be entitled to claim compensation from the airline under EU regulations. The bad news, however, is that this is not a blanket rule: there are restrictions and exclusions which can apply.

What the law says about flight delay compensation

The right to compensation for delayed or cancelled flights was established to protect the rights of passengers and falls under European regulation EU 261/2004.  The initial regulation applied to passengers who were either denied boarding or had their flights cancelled. In October 2012, however, a clarification to EU 261 allowed for passengers to also claim compensation for delays of three hours or longer.

Who can claim compensation, and who can’t?

You will have a valid flight delay compensation claim if you can answer yes to each of the following questions:

  • Did your flight depart within the last 6 years?
  • Did your flight take off or land in the EU, or was the flight with an EU airline?
  • Were you delayed for more than 3 hours?
  • Was the delay the airline’s fault and not due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’ – [that is, acts of terrorism, industrial action, political or civil unrest, security risks, extreme weather conditions or hidden manufacturing defects.]

The term ‘extraordinary circumstances’ is a grey legal area; and some airlines have tried to take advantage of the ambiguity of the terminology. However, the law is clear. What’s more, technical defects do not come under ‘extraordinary circumstances’ despite what many airlines have tried to claim. Guidelines published on the European Commission website may back up the airlines’ claims but these are not legally binding.

What are not extraordinary circumstances?

  • Airline staff late for duty or flights understaffed. 
  • Bad weather that affected a previous flight meaning the next aircraft was delayed. 
  • Denied boarding due to the flight being overbooked.
  • Technical problems with the aircraft (except hidden manufacturing defects or problems caused by sabotage).
  • Any other situation outside of the ‘extraordinary circumstances’ listed above.

How much compensation can you claim?

The amount of compensation you can claim is set out in the Regulation and the figures relate to the distance of travel and the length of the delay, rather than the cost of the ticket. This ensures that passengers are compensated for inconvenience and not reimbursed for costs paid.  

Flight Delay Compensation Amounts

Flight Distance Length of Delay Compensation Amount
Up to 1,500km 3 hours of more £180
1,500 km – 3,500 km 3 hours of more £280
Over 3,500 km Between 2 EU member states/ 3 hours or more £280
Over 3,500 km 3 to 4 hours £210
Over 3,500 km More than 4 hours £420


Further obligations from the airlines for passengers delayed for less than 3 hours

If passengers have been delayed by more than 2 hours then an airline has certain obligations under EU 261 while you’re at the airport. They must give each passenger the following:

  • Free meals and refreshments
  • Two phone calls or emails
  • Free hotel accommodation and transport to the hotel if the delay is overnight

If the airline refuses any of the above then you should purchase what you need and keep all your receipts as you will be able to claim it back later. All expenses should be reasonable so you are unlikely to be reimbursed for alcoholic beverages for example.

How far back can you claim compensation?

You can claim for any flight up to 6 years ago. Some airlines will say it’s only 2 years but this is not correct.

If your holiday flights have been delayed and you would like further information on whether or not you may qualify for compensation, then contact Harold Stock & Co solicitors on 01457 835597 or email info@haroldstock.com.

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